Air France has – for many years – been a bastion of design detail. From uniforms, the ever changing menu card designs, amenity kits, safety videos and now new CDG lounges featuring digital art installations, every design choice is carefully considered, which allows the carrier to exude a very French design aesthetic to the passenger journey, which recently has started to evolve. We talk exclusively with Veronique Jeanclerc, who heads up the Architecture and Design Department at Air France, to see why the ‘devil is in the detail.’
Thank you for taking the time to speak with us Véronique. Firstly, can you tell us a little bit about your background, your current role and how long you have been with Air France?
I started at Air France back in 2000 as a revenue management analyst and in 2003 I joined the marketing department. From 2009 I became the manager of the First Class ‘La Premiere’ customer experience before taking charge of the Air France & JOON Architecture and Design department in January 2017 where I’ve been for almost 18 months.
You work for such a long established legacy carrier with a diverse network. What excites you most about working for Air France?
Working in design for an airline is exciting for both the technological issues and the definition of customer experience. Our main goal is to translate the pleasure of traveling with Air France throughout the customer journey. It goes through very small details. And Air France is a very endearing company because of the many unique and passionate people we get to meet.
We love attention to detail. Is there a design element that you really love in Air France? What really encapsulates the ‘attention to detail’ Air France has in cabin design design for you?
The lamp in the First Class cabin is a good example but I also think the curtains provide both elegance and total privacy for the Air France La Premiere customers. In Business class, for me, it is the shape of the seat; enveloping passengers without restricting them and providing enough storage for all belongings.
We take care with our material selection in terms of their feel and their elegance, which is challenging with all of the technical and certification constraints required of an airline. On the ground, there are elements too such as the three digital artworks in the new Terminal 2EL lounge.
Air France has a very strong design aesthetic – almost every element seems beautifully crafted. Do you find that design is important to an airline?
Customers don’t see travel as only a convenience, but as an experience as well. They want to be surprised and enjoy their journey. To provide this, the Air France design brings together all the key attributes of design: comfort, aesthetics, and functionality. Design is incredibly important in making a trip a moment of pleasure, relaxing and offer a sense of well-being.
We have seen a gradual shift from the previous design aesthetic in recent years, what are the most noticeable design touches that have changed?
On the ground, our most recent project is the opening of the first part of the lounge in Terminal 2EL at Charles de Gaulle. We also opened a new lounge at Terminal G at the start of 2017, and we also refreshed our Fort-de-France lounge.
On board our aircraft, we make design changes frequently. Every six months we change the design of our amenity kits for children and for adults in La Premiere, Business and Premium Economy. We also change the cover of our menus in all cabins regularly.
Just recently we implemented the new A340 cabin for the launch of JOON, and we have a lot of new projects still on the way for 2018 and 2019.
That’s exciting, we can’t wait to see the next elements surface! Talking of your menu cards, I’ve noticed they are always changing, and a lot of thought must go into these. Can you tell us a little bit why these change so frequently?
The cover of our menus change around every three months to create a nice surprise for our frequent flyers and to provide something attractive for collectors. They are true travel memories!
It’s hard to put our finger on it, but the Air France design palette naturally exudes an air of ‘chic’ that most airlines can’t replicate, how do you go about getting this quintessentially French element into the brand?
The Air France design is part of the core values of the brand; pleasure, high quality and attention. Through this design we aim to express the French excellence – l’art de vivre à la française – with its degree of boldness, but always with elegance. On board the French design translates into taut, sober, soft lines but with accessories in varied and elegant colours.
Talking of onboard, which cabin is easiest and hardest to design for?
The First Class cabin is challenging to design because Air France choose to make a bespoke, “sur mesure” design for the suites to provide a personalised and unique experience. But the Business cabin is perhaps the most complicated, because we have to provide a huge amount of comfort and quality but with limited space to work with.
In our Premium Economy or Economy cabins, the seats are simple on a technical level, but maximising the comfort provided out of those seats is also a challenge. Our role when it comes to design is to make it a simple and positive experience for the customer.
Most noticeably, we are starting to see a shift in the design of the lounges for Air France. What was the design ethos for this new lounge concept, how does it reflect the new ‘Design by AirFrance’ interiors on board the aircraft?
The new lounges embody the dedication to quality we have at Air France and the spirit of the French touch – the art de vivre. Air France aims to offer a collection of emotions through an emotional style and experiential spaces, the art of twisting the great classics with a sense of glamor. It’s a modern and elegant style – sophisticated and sober, but always cheerful and relaxed.
For instance for the Terminal 2EL lounge, French cuisine is in the spotlight with the show kitchen; there’s a dedicated wellness area with a famous French partner, Clarins; and there’s even a few winks in reference to the Haussmanian apartment, like Hungarian-style wood flooring or our reinterpretation of the moldings.
Speaking of Haussmanian, what non-airline brands do you like to draw inspiration from?
When defining our travel experiences, we are of course inspired by all categories of hotel experience, as our aim of moving upmarket goes for all of our cabins, but we are also benchmarking the automotive market, restaurants and any brands that bear the values of modernity and the l’art de vivre à la Francaise.
And in the airline market, which competitors do you admire and why?
Air France tries to stay out of the bidding war in terms of products but wants to offer its customers a different and unique trip: a real experience.
There’s no single competitor product we could point at that we admire in particular, but we recognise the high-quality offerings available for customers across the globe. Our challenge at Air France is to continue to move upmarket and to stay unique.
A very diplomatic response! What would you say is the greatest challenge for airlines in the upcoming years?
For an airline, both efficiency and cost-effectiveness are always incredibly important and tricky to achieve, but the most pressing challenge for all airlines now is maximising connectivity with our passengers. It’s about developing a unique and seamless digital experience to improve their journey.
Thank you for your time. Finally, how will Air France continue to evolve over the coming years?
Air France will continue to make strides in connecting with our passengers and providing a start-to-finish digital experience for them and make their journey smooth. This will include many ways to personalise offers and products for the customer, simplifying the ground experience with new technology like biometrics for a fluid ground experience, and in general, taking the initiative with new ways to provide travel experiences.
Otherwise, Air France is always working on improving how we care for our customers, from providing things like more and more entertainment on board to improving our customer services.